I never thought that I would be eating beans in Italy. I thought only of pasta and pizza as local cuisine before I moved here. Tuscan's, however, are famous for eating beans. There is a peasant feel to the food as so many Tuscan's were farmers originally. My first bite was a revelation. I never knew beans could taste so good.
You can use these beans for making Ribollita, as a side dish with your best olive oil poured on top, and as a topping for bruschetta, but the best "marriage" is with Tuscan or Italian sausage. The Italians I talk to call pairings of food that are perfect together a good marriage. I love that. What they literally say is a beautiful marriage (bel matrimonio) but in America we usually use words like right and wrong, good and bad instead of beautiful (bello and ugly (brutto. Peccato.
As with most things, the Italian way of saying this best captures the essence of the idea. There is a glint in their eye when they say a bel matrimonio that hints of passion, love, emotion, sex. If you've never associated food with these things before, then it is time to try tuscan beans with sausage, gorgonzola with marscapone, Brunello wine with bistecca Fiorentina and say un bel matrimonio!
There is nothing hard about making tuscan beans with sausage besides perhaps finding good sausage where you live. The sausage we buy is hand delivered on Thursdays to our favorite deli and so fresh that Marco behind the counter squeezes it out on a cracker for a treat as we wait. Mom, if you are reading this, I know that you told me never to eat raw meat and that I could die from the "t" word that I can't spell but what a way to go. It is amazing, but please don't try it in America where the art of hand made cuisine has been lost, only at Marco's where it is hand delivered by the same guy who made it. Anyway, once the beans are made, we just pour olive oil on top along with the grilled sausages. The beans almost have a creaminess to them if they are cooked right and balance the bold flavors and fat of the sausage.
* 2 1/2 cups dried white beans. Tondini are smaller than canneloni beans and I find them to be the best.
* 10 cups cold water
* 2 fresh sage sprigs
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 head of garlic, cloves separated and skins removed
* 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
* Accompaniment: fine-quality extra-virgin olive oil, (freshly pressed new oil if you can even get it is heaven).
* Special equipment: a 5-quart terra-cotta bean pot or heavy saucepan
Put beans, cold water, sage, bay leaf, and separated garlic cloves in a terracotta pot or bean pot if you have one. If not then the heaviest saucepan you have. Cover and bring to a simmer over the lowest heat possible. Cook for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the beans are tender but not mushy. Remove from heat and stir in sea salt.
When ready to use, drain almost all cooking liquid from beans (reserve for making soup if desired) and adjust seasoning with sea salt and pepper to taste. Now for the fantastic part, drizzle on top a good amount of new oil or the best quality olive oil you can get your hands on.